Forensic counselors assess, evaluate, and treat individuals and families for a wide range of mental and emotional conditions. Operating at the intersection of law and psychology, these forensic evaluators are often asked by courts and lawyers to give professional opinions pertaining to the existence, or absence, of psychological issues. Typical determinations include if a person has a mental or psychological disorder and which parent is best suited to be the primary caregiver for a child. Depending on the setting, forensic counselors may also be expected to treat individuals and groups.
Why a Ph.D.?
In addition to evaluating and offering opinions on individuals, forensic counselors at the doctoral level are also qualified to give expert opinions about how groups interact with the law. As such, in addition to taking the full range of courses on forensic psychology that other forensic counseling degrees require, doctorates also study social psychological principles. As experts, those with forensic counseling doctoral degrees opine on complex issues such as jury interaction and the effect of publicity on a trial, as well as the psychological characteristics of a defendant or a party. Although the doctoral degree typically takes at least three years to complete and requires a dissertation, the doctorate holder gains a wider range of potential forensic counseling careers.
Inside a Forensic Counseling Doctoral Degree Program
Forensic counseling doctoral programs are rigorous and intense, and demand a commitment of at least a three years. Typically, students will take between two and three years of course work. Students must also pass a comprehensive examination, and an internship or practicum is usually required. At the end of the program, a thorough doctoral dissertation must be defended and approved.
Doctoral students take a variety of counseling courses covering both theory and practice. Forensic counseling students also take courses on the interrelation of the law with psychology. With its strong emphasis on research and theory, forensic counseling doctoral students will take several advanced statistics courses; a research practicum may also be required. Graduates of forensic counseling doctoral programs should expect to be qualified to provide psychological expertise in courtrooms, as well as teach and research at the university level.
What’s Next for Forensic Counseling Doctoral Degree Holders?
Forensic counselors with doctoral degrees should expect to earn more than $3,500,000 over their lifetimes, according to the Georgetown University report. Doctorate holders who choose to teach and research at universities should expect to earn over $70,000, on average, according to the BLS. Although specific data is hard to find, psychological courtroom experts charge fees similar to attorneys, who, on average, earn more than $110,000 annually.